Once you stop playing games, you will keep wondering if you can ever play again. Will you ever outgrow your compulsion to binge playing games?
The short answer
If you’re here because you’re seeking help due to an out of control gaming habit, then no, you won’t be able to return to playing the types of games you’ve played in the past.
The long answer
You can’t return to the games you’ve played in the past. It’s up to you to set these boundaries. For at least the first six months, do not return to ANY games, even digital board games (physical board games are fine).
This reddit post offers a great explanation as to why we shouldn’t return to gaming. We have to stop gaming because we cannot moderate our consumption. One hour of gaming is too much and 72 hours isn’t enough.
For me, the games I binged on consisted of open world single player games, mostly Bethesda games. I never marathoned multiplayer games alone. The closest I’ve come to this were all-nighters in college and high school LAN parties and a two-day WoW binge with a friend in-person LAN-style.
This doesn’t mean I can play multiplayer shooters or MMORPGs. I’m sure I would start gaming binges with those due to an addictive personality. But I allow myself to play digital party games like You Don’t Know Jack type games. Also, digital board games are allowed as long as they can’t be played single-player or alone against bots. This rule excludes the video game version of Gloomhaven since it has a single-player mode.
When I play these party/social games, I don’t feel the urge to binge them and don’t have obsessive thoughts when I stop playing them. They can only be played with others and the type of people that play these games rarely have time to marathon them.
Of course non-digital games are fine. Board games are a great substitute. However, I’m undecided on persistent campaign games requiring large time sinks such as Gloomhaven.
In other words, you will never play games again that scratch the addictive itch. So although they are technically games, they’re not anything you would want to binge.
Cold Turkey versus Selective Quitting
Some cold turkey purists my scoff at my inclusion of digital party games and multiplayer-only digitized board games, and that’s fine. It’s up to each person to decide their boundaries.
If you find yourself neglecting your responsibilities to play a digital version of Catan with online friends, then that’s a good indicator you should exclude digital board games as well.
If you compare addictive gaming to alcoholism, alcoholics must discontinue all alcohol consumption since alcohol is the same whether it’s in beer, wine, or liquor.
But games are more nuanced. They consist of a series of activities to achieve set goals. Game mechanics control how the activities achieve these goals. The mechanics and activities to achieve these goals come in a wide array, with some activities being on the addictive/compulsive spectrum, and other activities being casual/social.
Examples of addictive/compulsive game mechanics
Expiring time and resources
Examples: FarmVille, scheduled raids in MMORPGs, Animal Crossing’s timed errands.
Games with this mechanic will penalize you for not playing, or not playing at specified times. A game starts to control your schedule instead of real-life responsibilities.
Wealth and experience acquisition
Examples: MMORPGs, Open World RPGs
Games like this are especially addicting when there is no clear end game or when the end state requires hundreds or thousands of hours. This can be compounded by games which encourage replay though various character builds, New Game Plus modes, or infinitely generated worlds or quests.
Here’s a great resource on addictive game mechanics and how games leverage them.
Social/casual game mechanics
Multiplayer games without persistence or global leaderboards/ranks
Examples: Jackbox Games, Mario Party 10 and earlier
Multiplayer games which have no effect persistence between game sessions. Without the drive to level a character or increase global ranking, there is little reason to play for more than a few sessions, usually with friends instead of strangers.
Skill or logic-based casual games
Examples: Snake, Mario platforming games, and most similar platformers
Puzzle games or platformers are iffy. I wouldn’t recommend that any recovering game addict play them, but there is usually an expiring interest after the first dozen or so hours.